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Extreme Athletics: How Much Fitness is too Much? (And other Fun Questions)

This post is about my experience, strength and hope.  My results may differ from yours.

I rode my bicycle more than 8,500 miles last year.  The year before was 7,500.  The year before was 6,000.  The two years before that topped 5,500.  Add my miles up over the last six years and I’m well into my second time around the world (38,000 miles and change).  I ride an average of better than six days a week, but I never considered what I do “extreme”.  Intense, maybe, but not extreme.  Extreme was for those crazy people who are running marathons through the desert, or who take a couple of weeks to cycle across the US…  Not me.

The last time I sat in a doctor’s office (something like 3 or four years ago), after having a full blood workup, my doctor said, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it”.  Cholesterol, blood sugar, my “inflammation” numbers… by every measure I was extremely healthy.  In that case, extreme was good.

Going back three doctors and a decade there has been concern over my EKG readings though.  The first cause for concern was the “spike”.  My “spike” is big.  Really big.  The spike led to an ultrasound of my heart and an “all clear”.  I even called my doctor back to make sure I’d heard right in his office, that I was clear to continue exercising as I had been.  The worry was that my heart was enlarged.  While it is a little bigger than normal, it was discovered that it’s not really that big, it’s just strong.

Over the ensuing years I cut days off the bike to a point where I’ll now go for a month or two without taking a day off.  I simply substitute easy days for taking a day off (three easy days a week).  That’s not “extreme”, right?

Well, maybe not.  It’s the duration.

According to my new doctor, who I know personally and have for years, and whom I trust to look out for me, there’s a new understanding that’s come about over the last three to five years about what happens after that spike in the EKG that I mentioned earlier.  I can’t remember all of the jargon, but there’s a drop after the spike (which is normal) but there’s a small rise after that drop followed by another small drop that shouldn’t be there.  It was once thought that the small rise was benign.  Sadly for me, “once” is a very big word in that last sentence.

Unfortunately, because Government-down Obamacare sucks, I can’t be referred to a cardiologist to have my ticker checked out because I’m too healthy.  While my EKG shows signs for concern, I’m not exhibiting any negative symptoms or problems related to that little rise….  On the other hand and thankfully, Democrats didn’t go full stupid for a Canadian-style socialized scheme so I can still pay for the consult and new ultrasound with a cardiologist out of my pocket.  In the next few weeks I’ll be going to see a cardiologist about how to make my ticker keep up with the rest of me.  Where this gets really fun, if there is something wrong with my pump, we’ll catch it early enough that the available treatment options will work excellently because I’m so damned healthy.

Anyway, back to the main topic:  How much fitness is “extreme”?  I don’t freaking know.  I always figured I was a little above average and maybe slightly nutty, but extreme?  We’re not even that fast, above average, yes, but I know a whole class of guys who ride a lot faster than my friends and I do… Then my buddy Mike pointed out over the phone yesterday, “Yeah, but it’s not about the speed.  We’re out there doing a hundred miles in five hours.”  And that’s precisely when I saw me as I am.  If the average person puts in 30-45 minutes a day, five days a week… measured against that…  Their week is my Saturday.  Or Sunday.  In those terms, I may not be hardcore, like someone who races, but “extreme” is fair.

Finally, and to wrap this up with a neat little bow, I still have a lot to learn about what is going on with me, whether it’s just genetics that is messing with me or whether I even have a problem to begin with.  There is one thing that keeps ringing in my melon, what my doctor said about how much I choose to exercise or ride my bikes…  Once you go from a normal amount of exercise to the extreme, the risks not only outweigh the benefits, there are no additional benefits.

That one hurts, and it fits me perfectly.

So, what’s next for me?  Well, it’ll be that appointment with a cardiologist and I’ll wait for his recommendations – and I’ll follow them.  If that means slowing down or limiting the length of time I’m on the bike, I’ll do whatever I have to for longevity.  I like riding fast.  I like being in the upper crust of endurance cyclists.  I like long rides with my wife and friends.  I also believe in one important axiom a friend of mine passed on to me:  “It’s real easy to talk tough about death, until the bus shows up for you.”



  1. saoirsek says:

    Hey, whatever happens you will DEFINITELY be ok and knowing you whatever the experience you will share it and help others with it. Hugs from myself and UM x

  2. Gail says:

    Yes. You are lucky that “Democrats didn’t go full stupid for a Canadian-style socialized scheme so I can still pay for the consult and new ultrasound with a cardiologist out of my pocket.”

    Our system is over burdened with long, long waits. Some people die waiting. Not old people. Young vital people. You don’t hear about that on the news and if you do, there are a dozen inane explanations as to why. Dude…someone f*cking died! There is no excuse. By the way…so glad you didn’t write ” a FREE Canadian-style socialized scheme”. It’s is not free. I can show you my egregious taxes to prove that. Anyway, as a person who waited far too long for my life saving surgery, I’m glad you can go to a cardiologist quickly and get assessed.

    As far as what your doctor told you about exercise. He’s dead to rights. What’s more important to you? The time spent exercising OR the intensity minutes? Yes, I know. For me that would be like someone asking which is better. French chocolate or Italian chocolate?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard of how egregiously you guys are taxed. It’s certainly a charged issue. So far, I’m exhibiting no symptoms (that I know of) related to the supposed problem. This is simply vigilance. I’m fully expecting the doctor to say, “No worries, there ya whippersnapper. Do what you do”.

      If, however, there is bad news attached to it, I have no problem slowing down a little bit and cutting my rides down to 20 miles a day. I’d rather ride and not die. 😁

    • MJ Ray says:

      I don’t understand how both Canada and the USA have got it so wrong, then. The NHS has given me at least two precautionary EKGs in the last few years. While guidelines are set by the national institute, it seems doctors can usually overrule if needed.

      Plus public healthcare doesn’t mean you can’t get additional tests done privately for pay if you want, although those would be done at a commercial hospital, not the NHS ones (with a few exceptional mixed ones which I think are historical hangovers).

      • bgddyjim says:

        Yeah, I’ve read reports about the NHS, the dirty hospitals and your wait times. Oh, and that’s from your press, not ours (just in case you think it’s questionable reporting). You didn’t rewrite the book, brother.

      • Gail says:

        I’m both British (by birth) and Canadian (by choice) AND I have lived in the US. I can comment on all three in an informed way. You just can’t compare. There is a reason people flock to the US for healthcare. It is the best in the world. The wait times in England makes the wait times in Canada look speedy. The NHS is crumbling and many elderly people are just not bothered with. Those are facts, and as Jim wrote, you can’t re write that.

      • Gail says:

        Oh, and there are no commercial hospitals in Ontario. Not allowed. Yay…socialism!

      • bgddyjim says:

        Which is why Canadians flock to the US when the Canadian system throws them under the bus, MJ.

      • MJ Ray says:

        The UK press is generally right-wing (Murdoch, Rothermere, Desmond and so on) and so loves to attack the NHS as much as public opinion allows. When the government is right-wing (as now), then the centrist press (Guardian, Mirror) also attacks the government for mismanaging the NHS. So I don’t feel you get the full picture from our press, especially not about public services and doubly not when the Conservatives are in power.

        The NHS isn’t perfect and when it screws up, it’s sometimes system-wide, but US healthcare seems to screw up fairly often too. I think I’ve written before about travelling in the US when a gum problem recurred and the drug used to treat it in the UK was still stuck in FDA approval hell, so I made do with an ineffective alternative for the rest of the trip, then got it cured within days of returning here.

        Wait times are generally misleading, though. Firstly, they often don’t matter: my main illness is chronic, so often nothing’s going to change in a few days or probably weeks and I don’t really mind whether I wait 6 or 8 months unless there’s a problem. Secondly, there are ways to make them look good when not actually delivering, as we’ve seen a few times over the years. Patient satisfaction is probably a much more reliable indicator and in general, we love the NHS for good reason: it seems to deliver fairly good basic healthcare most of the time at about half the cost of the US system, plus we’ve still got a private system if the NHS’s advanced services don’t work for you and you can afford them, so there really doesn’t seem much downside. It seems difficult to understand how the USA seems to make such a mess of basic healthcare provision for its taxpayers, costing so much and yet still leaving so many with such limited care.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Ah, the US tax payers are only the top 40% of all wage earners. The bottom 60% pay little or no federal tax (beyond Social Security). It’s a long response and I’m out the door to work on my fitness so I can avoid the whole mess. 😎

  3. Gail says:

    You could also consider this as a two day a week alternative to biking, IF that is what your cardiologist thinks might be a good idea. I teach Pilates to bikers, golfers and swimmers. All say they have benefited tremendously.

  4. wanderwolf says:

    Good luck at the cardios. I hope s/he has good news for you.

  5. Sandra says:

    “There is one thing that keeps ringing in my melon, what my doctor said about how much I choose to exercise or ride my bikes… Once you go from a normal amount of exercise to the extreme, the risks not only outweigh the benefits, there are no additional benefits.”
    I have seen this as well . . . It’s all about balance. If your mental health would suffer not riding so much, then that certainly is something to consider, as well–mental health is a key component of overall health 🙂 And if you rode half the distance, or half the number of times, you would probably drive everyone crazy around you!

    Keep riding, my friend!

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